In years gone by, a degree of cynicism greeted the signing of Japanese players by big European clubs, but the form of recent J. League imports has led to increased anticipation over arrivals from the Far East.
If previously it was suggested some players moved west as a means of increasing their European clubs' popularity in a lucrative market, that is no longer the case. Attacking midfielder Takashi Usami – presented earlier this week as FC Bayern München's first Japanese signing – could become the latest in a series of success stories from the land of the rising sun.
Coach Jupp Heynckes is impressed by what he has seen of the 19-year-old, brought in from Gamba Osaka. "He's a lively young player who is capable of learning, and on top of that he's very likeable," said Heynckes, back at the team where he won German titles in 1989 and 1990. "He's a good lad and incredibly hard-working."
Industry, however, is not always enough to fashion a top-class career, and Usami is aiming to emulate flair players such as Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben. "My style of play is similar to Ribéry and Robben's," he said, adding: "I want to play as much as possible and score goals."
While Usami charmed Munich with near-perfect Bavarian at his introductory press conference, winger Ryo Miyaichi is eager to make a similarly positive impression at Arsenal FC, following a fine first European season on loan with Feyenoord.
With three goals in 12 Dutch Eredivisie games, the 18-year-old made many friends in Rotterdam, and he is now keen to make a breakthrough in London. "I hope I can contribute to the team," he said. "Everyone is very welcoming. They are trying to speak to me but my English is not at a good level yet."
Those language barriers will break down faster if Miyaichi sees regular action, and Japan's increasing presence in Europe's big leagues is proof that the Japanese are no longer just consumers of top-class football; they are taking part too.
Five top Japanese talents in this season's UEFA Champions League
Takashi Usami (FC Bayern München)
Bayern sporting director Christian Nerlinger is excited about his new recruit, although a first-team place may yet be a way off for the 19-year-old. "Moving to the Bundesliga is a big transition, as well as a big change in culture," noted Nerlinger. "However, I believe he's a fast learner."
Ryo Miyaichi (Arsenal FC)
Feyenoord fans took an instant shine to Miyaichi as he spent the first months of his European career on loan in Rotterdam. Though the 18-year-old was still playing high-school football in 2010, the Dutch press saw enough to christen him 'Ryodinho' because of perceived similarities with Ronaldinho.
Yuto Nagatomo (FC Internazionale Milano)
Left-back Nagotomo dazzled during a loan spell at Italy's AC Cesena and within days of signing for that club permanently was lent to Inter, storming into their lineup in the spring. With the Nerazzurri since securing the 24-year-old's services full time, and Dejan Stanković occupying his favoured No5 shirt, Nagotomo has taken No55 instead.
Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund)
Attacking midfielder Kagawa switched to Dortmund from Cerezo Osaka at the start of last term and proved to be a big hit as his side stormed to an unexpected German Bundesliga title. The 22-year-old won the hearts of the fans by fulfilling his promise to score twice in a derby against FC Schalke 04.
Keisuke Honda (PFC CSKA Moskva)
If the attacker's arrival at Dutch outfit VVV-Venlo was unheralded, his return of 16 goals in 2008/09 made 'Keizer Keisuke' (Emperor Keisuke) a hot property. CSKA won the race for his signature that summer, with his subsequent form for the Army Men alerting the wider football world to the 25-year-old's talents.
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